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Test tube baby pioneer Prof Edwards dies

LONDON, April 10: Robert Edwards, a British Nobel prize-winning scientist known as the father of IVF for pioneering the development of “test tube babies”, died on Wednesday aged 87 after a long illness, his university said. edwardEdwards, who won the Nobel for medicine in 2010, started work on developing in-vitro fertilisation (IVF) in the 1950s, and the first so-called test tube baby, Louise Brown, was born in 1978 as a result of his research. Since then, more than 5 million babies have been born around the world as a result of the techniques Edwards developed together with his late colleague, Patrick Steptoe. Edwards, who has five daughters and 11 grandchildren, said he was motivated in his work by a desire to help families. “Nothing is more special than a child,” he was quoted by his clinic as saying when he won his Nobel prize. Edwards began his work on fertilisation in 1955, and by 1968 had managed to fertilise a human egg in a laboratory. He then started to collaborate with Steptoe. In 1980, the two founded Bourn Hall, the world’s first IVF clinic, in Cambridge, eastern England, where gynaecologists and cell biologists around the world have since come to train. Mike Macnamee, chief executive of the clinic, said Edwards was “one of our greatest scientists”, whose inspirational work had led to a breakthrough that had enhanced the lives of millions of people worldwide. CRITICISM, CONTROVERSY: In-vitro fertilisation is a process by which an egg is fertilised by sperm outside the body in a test tube, giving rise to the term “in vitro” or “in glass”.Experts say that today, as many as 1 to 2 per cent of babies in the Western world are conceived through IVF, a method designed to help infertile couples or those who have trouble conceiving naturally but who want to have children of their own. Yet Edwards’ work and its consequences remain controversial. The Roman Catholic Church strongly opposes IVF as an affront to human dignity that destroys more human life than it creates — because scientists discard or store unused fertilised embryos. Working together in the 1960s and 1970s, Edwards and Steptoe, a gynaecologist, pursued their research despite opposition from churches, governments and many in the media, and scepticism from scientific colleagues. They struggled to raise funds and had to rely on private donations, but in 1968 they developed methods to fertilise human eggs outside the body. Working at Cambridge University, they began replacing fertilised embryos into infertile mothers in 1972. But several pregnancies spontaneously aborted due to what they later discovered were flawed hormone treatments. PRECISE TIMING: In 1977, they tried a new procedure, which did not involve hormone treatments but relied instead on precise timing. On July 25 of the following year, the world’s first IVF baby was born. Peter Braude, a professor of obstetrics and gynaecology at King’s College London, said few biologists had been able to have such a positive and practical impact on humankind. “Bob’s boundless energy, his innovative ideas, and his resilience despite the relentless criticism by naysayers changed the lives of millions of ordinary people who now rejoice in the gift of their own child,” he said. “He leaves the world a much better place.” According to the European Society of Human Reproduction and Embryology (ESHRE), around one in six couples worldwide experiences some form of infertility problem at least once during their reproductive lifetime. Since Edwards’ pioneering work, various forms of “assisted reproductive technology” have been developed. ESHRE chairman Anna Veiga said calculations last year indicated there were now 5 million IVF babies in the world. “And they each reflect the sacrifices (Edwards) made to establish IVF as a legitimate treatment in world medicine,” she said.—Reuters]]>

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